Interview : Jiu Jitsu director Dimitri Logothetis

Dimitri Logothetis is the kind of creative who has done a little bit of everything, and does a damn good job of it all.

Since attending film school at the recommendation of Martin Scorsese on the set of New York, New York in 1977, Logothetis has been hard at work producing, writing and directing films and television series in a wide variety of genres and formats.

He’s also a highly qualified martial artist, with many years of training in Jiu Jitsu and Kempo. That background shines through brightly in the 2015 reboot of the Kickboxer franchise, Kickboxer: Vengeance, which Logothetis produced. Dipping even further into the series, he produced and wrote its follow-up, Kickboxer: Retaliation.

With his latest film Jiu Jitsu, Dimitri is a writing/directing/producing powerhouse. The film boasts a stellar cast of trained martial artists and stunt performers, including Alain Moussi, Tony Jaa, JuJu Chan, Frank Grillo and Nicolas Cage. It’s a wild fusion of science fiction and martial arts action, feeling somewhat like Predator meets Mortal Kombat.

Dimitri spoke with Moviehole about the production of Jiu Jitsu, as well as his relationships with the cast and the importance of authentic physical performances in action cinema.

Frankly, the movie is awesome – right up my alley. The fusion of sci-fi and martial arts action is a surprising but very welcome direction to go in following the Kickboxer films. What in particular inspired you to go in that direction?

After I delivered Kickboxer: Retaliation, a friend of mine said, “hey, have you thought about science fiction and martial arts?”. I thought that would be a really neat idea.

When I was a kid, I’d watch The Day the Earth Stood Still on TV. That kind of inspired Brax. And, of course, I love martial arts films. I was a martial artist myself. So I thought about coming up with a story, and the first thing that I did was call my writing partner. ‘

I said, “why don’t we write a comic book, specifically so we can see the film?”. And so we wrote a whole comic book, which gave me the ability to storyboard out the whole film and see what it would look like. And we went from there, straight to script.

That’s a really interesting idea, to not create the traditional storyboards. Do you find that helped the pre-production process?

Yeah, I like to visualise – I have a kind of visual memory. It works really well for me to visualise things, especially being a filmmaker. So once I was able to see it in that way, we took it from there.

I really enjoyed the design of Brax’s alien suit. Aesthetically, what were your inspirations when it came to deciding how Brax would look?

If you look at his face, it’s certainly The Day the Earth Stood Still. He’s got this blank face most of the time, and occasionally, you get glimpses of this being underneath the helmet. One of my favourite science fiction films of all time was the original Alien, and the whole design of the movie was done by H.R. Giger, who was an incredible designer – especially when it comes to aliens. So those really were my two main inspirations.

You’ve worked with Alain Moussi several times now, between the last two Kickboxer movies and now Jiu Jitsu. What traits do you find Alain has as an actor that makes him such a good fit for you as a director?

First of all, with martial arts, you have to have a true, extremely talented, authentic martial artist – in my opinion. If you go back to your favourite martial arts films, going all the way back to Bruce Lee, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan; those guys, they were real martial artists. They weren’t doubled by anybody. They performed all those feats by themselves. So I think you start there, otherwise your fan base will get entirely lost.

Even Jason Statham, he became a wonderful martial artist. He trained incredibly. With that core, you can move on and do all kinds of stuff. Alain is a sixth degree Jiu Jitsu master. He’s been training in martial arts since he was seven years old; gymnastics too. He’s 6’1”, he weighs about 205lbs, he can do a front aerial and a back aerial. The kind of execution he has when he kicks and punches is pretty amazing.

With your own background in martial arts, do you find yourself getting quite hands-on with your cast in terms of choreography and shooting a scene?

Yeah, I was fortunate enough to have met some really good stunt people over in Thailand when I did the first Kickboxer movie. I’ve worked with that team often since then, so I know I can count on them and that coordinator.

In addition to them, Alain is a wonderful stunt performer himself; that’s where his roots are. He’s also a wonderful martial artist, so he injects an awful lot of choreography into it himself. With a martial arts film, you should really lose yourself in the hero. You should feel like you could be them – that’s the whole point.

I mean, the little boy and little girl in all of us should really embrace a martial arts hero, because they’re only humans as opposed to what you see in Marvel movies. They’re really doing what you’re looking at. Perhaps you could think to yourself, if I train that hard, I too could become a real-life superhero.

Jiu Jitsu absolutely has a fantastic line-up of martial artists. Nicolas Cage was an unexpected face, but he’s wonderful in the role. How did you go about casting him alongside people like Alain and Tony Jaa?

Well, besides being an incredible actor, Nick Cage embraces genre. He also happens to have trained in Jiu Jitsu with some of the best masters. So he could really pull off stuff. In addition to that, he’s the heart of the film. He lays out the exposition and the story so that you can believe the entire setup. If you didn’t have somebody who was doing that, you wouldn’t buy into the myth.

He’s so good at capturing a particular tone with his performances. I really enjoyed him in Jiu Jitsu for the degree of fun he injected into the role. He’s an actor who, if you can get the right director to work with him, he can give you exactly what you need. 

It was wonderful working with him. He was one of the only people on the planet, I think, that has seen almost every single obscure movie from every single country ever made. We were laughing about it, because he’d ask me if I’d seen some of the smaller, original Akira Kurosawa movies and I’d say, “oh, yeah, that was really cool!”.

I’ve never run into anybody that’s as big of a film geek as I am. And in addition to that, he really embraces his characters. He actually created that character himself, every part of it.

From what I understand, you’re working on another Kickboxer film. Naturally, the events of this year have put the brakes on many projects in various different ways. What are your current plans in terms of writing and directing?

I’ve got a movie to make that I’m preparing right now called Man of War. It was written by Gary Scott Thompson, who wrote the Fast and Furious franchise. I’m about to complete some casting on that. But I’ve already written Kickboxer: Armageddon. It was ready to go, but I wanted the Kickboxer films that I’ve already made to proliferate around the world. I wanted them to get onto streaming platforms and free TV. Just to have the audiences around the world embrace them, and that’s what ended up happening.

So now is a good time, because if I’d done it sooner, Kickboxer: Retaliation would not have been out into the world as quickly. Now it’s all over the place, and it’s starting to get a resurgence on Netflix. I’ve been told that the numbers have been going up. So now would be a really good time to get Armageddon made, probably in the next year or so.

Theaters re-open in Victoria, ‘Tenet’ to finally screen

What Lies Below review : Dear diary, my step-dad might be an eldritch horror!